Sunday, February 12, 2006

Teakin' Out at a Fave Bangkok Destination (w/ family!)

(more photos here):

Besides comparative solitude, our return to Bangkok brought a special guest star to Extravagasia: my cousin-in-law, Michael Diederich. What a treat!!! He does market research for Microsoft and the planets aligned so his focus groups and our tarriance matched on the calendar.

Andy and I got to hang out and tour with Michael, speak English full time to someone other than each other, share and compare travel stories (he was just in Cairo for business and worked in a few of China's megacities), get perspective on what's up in the US and more. It was awesome!

And, a public shout out to Michael: I owe you big time for bringing me a little fix of In Style, SPF 55, sprinkled sugar cookies AND, most importantly, for lugging back a big-ass bag full of India purchases. I'm not sure who's more grateful -- me or Andy, because he was a gentleman and hauled the woven plastic monstrosity through train stations. Ironically, in India, the sherpa gig is less glamorous than Nepal. So I am now bag-free and aware big belts are "IT" for 2006.

Michael, Andy and I visited one of my most favorite sites in Bangkok from a previous trip, the Jim Thompson House, and it did not disappoint. Even for the boys...and I was so relieved as it's all about~> read more

 art, architecture, gardens and silk. Jim Thompson was an American who returned to Thailand post-WW2 and both revived and revolutionized its ailing silk industry. He single-handedly sold Thai silk to the world and made it a desired staple of the Milan fashion houses, thus creating a profitable industry for struggling Thailand and its skilled but uneducated weavers. And, he was a gifted architect and art collector whose eye for objets d'art and preservation gave Thailand's indigenous art history notice to scholars worldwide.

Jim Thompson's house is a teak extravaganza of six native, old homes that were lifted, transported and preserved on his canal-side property, and surrounded by the most lush, tranquil garden of lotus flowers, orchid vines, koi ponds plus a near jungle of elegant tropical plants. The deep cinnabar brown of the six 'A-frame-with-a-twist' roof lines, all perched on stilts, blends yet contrasts in harmony with the waxy green of the jungle plants. Giant urns hold clear green water, alive with tiny minnows and the bright buds of water lilies, along pebbled paths which crunch ever-so-slightly under flip-flopped feet. Ponds bloom with delicate lotus petals, pale pink or cream yellow, their exquisite upside-down-heart-shape blossom and slender stem so different from our garden variety plants of the West. As one meanders through the garden, busts of Buddha with meditative poses and almond eyes peak out at you and the only startling sound is that of tequila-sunrise colored koi jumping in a pond. It is truly one of the most magical places I've visited, especially when you think a city bursting with 9 million people surrounds it.

The six houses were connected into one large, open-air retreat and decorated lovingly with Thai silk and Asian antiquities. Like many places in SE Asia, the feet are considered unclean and you're asked to remove your shoes before entering in a mandartory small-group tour. Thus, padding around barefoot on the dark, slick teak floors, you really feel like you're visiting his home for a small party instead of a museum tour. Stepping up between each room is imperative because Thais believe evil spirits lurk on the floor and traditional homes have tall, teak borders (like 6" - 8") between each room, thus preventing little gremlins from moving into the next room as well as trapping investigative, crawling children in one area. Clever, yet definitely hazardous for us from the West!

Chinese porcelain, life-size Buddha statues, epic silk paintings and the most intricate, carved teak screens decorate the rooms and all were selected by Jim Thompson himself. The overall whole gives one a sense of the unique, artistic beauty that was Siam, Angkor, Burma and more in the mid-centuries, and an immediate appreciation for all that we rarely see in Western museums. Jim Thompson disappeared mysteriously in the highlands of Malaysia in 1967 but luckily, his vision of beauty and industry live on, as well as his bewithcing home. (I've attached a link to their site so you can all see more!):

Michael, Andy and I also rode squished and precarious on a khlong (canal) taxi through one of Bangkok's myriad waterways which are used for everything from commuting and commerce to bathing and fishing. Some people refer to Bangkok as the "Venice of Asia" and while that's a bit of an overstatement, it does provide the context to understand that it's not just your basic modern Asian city. Bangkok has a network of water that is alive with everyday use, so alive that you wouldn't believe the white caps and swells the primtive fan boats with giant diesel V-8 engines generate along its murky shallowness. The water gets so rough that the boat drivers and ticket takers wear snowboard helmets!!! (no, I am not kidding)

And this is water you neither want to touch nor splashed upon you. Trust me. As I was! The khlong taxi is narrow and tightly packed with bench seating for Asian-sized people, so I took the small seat along the side of the boat. Poor Michael and Andy were sardined into the bench aisles which weren't even wide enough to accommodate their bent legs! However, riding along the open side meant I was vulnerable to the green-brown-gray water and protected only by the camping-tarp-canopy-curtain-thing the helmeted boat workers tried to drop in time to block the sloshing splash of a passing khlong boat. Unfortunately, it's solution that doesn't quite hold water. And that water did not dry clear on my glasses or shirt. Ugh!

We also took in some of the other teak around Bangkok, which is plentiful and varied in style -- including furniture, temples, palaces and pavilions. Sadly, some of the teak was influenced by Europe's Victorian age and its rich luster painted over in pastels (blech!), but much of it is untouched from anything but design and natural elements. The three of us are big fans of teak now and have all sorts of ideas for building a pavilion in our backyard, maybe some garden furniture or even getting into screen carving.

If anyone sees an ad on eBay for teak overruns, definitely let us know! ;)


Anonymous Mommy Moore said...

I LOVED seeing you three togther in Bangkok! Enjoyed your story about Jim Thompson's home. Loved reading about those 6-8" planks put up to keep the evil spirits out, or the children corralled. Our most expensive boats here were once built of teak--I know we wished for a Chris Craft boat because of its beautiful teak deck.

9:41 PM  

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